On Wednesdays we’ll be presenting stories. Which, you know, isn’t materially different from Mondays, where we present stories, or Friday, where we present stories. We’re kind of a story operation, if you think about it.
However, Mondays we specifically present myth. Fridays are devoted (at least for the moment) to serials and one-shots in the Justice Wing universe. On Wednesdays, we’ll give you serials and short stories on any subject matter.
Today we begin Lovelace 1/2, a novel about a young woman named Andi. She’s an expat Brit going to a private school in America. And, right up to her Freshman year, she’s been a completely normal person. She prefers sports to studies, she has friends, she likes to watch television and do not much of anything.
And, well, I hope you like her. Or at least like the story.
*** *** *** ***
Breakfast was often quite good at Brooks-Carillon Academy. The cooking staff had real chefs over them, and they often experimented and played with food. And when it wasn’t particularly good there was always the row of cereals, all in their plastic tubes with the paddle wheels along the bottom to measure out servings. And, there was usually semi-fresh fruit. There was even a place where you could make waffles if they’d filled the dispenser.
Most of that went out the door on Saturday mornings. Every other Saturday was actually a half-day of school, and every Saturday there was afternoon sport. That was the nature of boarding schools — the students had to be there on Saturdays anyhow, so they might as well send them to class and onto the field. That way, they could fill more of the school year with breaks so parents could pick their children up and actually get to spend some time with them.
Not that Andi would know much about that. Her parents weren’t the “visiting” type even back in England. Now that the Atlantic separated them she had no reason to expect she’d see them at all before they had to pick her up for the summer — and even that assumed she didn’t fly straight to some summer program or another.
Andi leaned her head back against the glass of the window. The long couch she was sitting on was in the Year 9 team area, up against a back wall. The window was a little low — or the couch a little high — so it was like she was resting her head against a glass wall. That helped with the thick feeling in her stomach — the oatmeal and under-ripe fruit that had been breakfast hadn’t sat well, and making it through dreary English and History classes hadn’t fixed it. Now that she was heading into Math and a test — well, a bad day was about to get worse.
The team area was stuffy. Year 9 was on the second floor of the lower school, and though air conditioning was after the fact, the building dated back to 1893. Even electricity was an aftermarket add-on. Actually getting good airflow in May really wasn’t an option.
Andi opened her eyes. It was Isabelle Buckle — Andi’s best friend, more or less. She was another Year 9 girl, tall, dark skinned and dark haired. Bell had a head start on physical development, compared with the other Year 9s, which contrasted her with Andi was more petite, light tanned skinned and black haired. “Hello Bell,” she said, sitting back up. “Are you ready for Algebra?”
Bell snorted. “Not hardly. I’m gonna bomb it. You?”
Andi shrugged. “I tried to study. I never figured out how to study math. Are you just supposed to redo the homework?”
“Dunno.” She looked down at Andi’s lap. “You stole Luke’s guitar again, huh?
Andi looked at the guitar in her arms. It was a bit battered, with a few peeling labels stuck on the body — one just said ‘Surf,’ and the other was a stick figure with a black hat. “He keeps leaving it in the team area,” she said. “I figure he wants me to steal it.”
Bell snickers. “He loves you.”
“Oh, as if.”
“He loooooves you.”
Andi gave Bell a look, which just made her laugh. “Why does anyone here need to love anyone? We’re Freshmen. Can’t we just be kids a while longer?”
“Man, why do you even want to be a kid?” Bell’s smile turned crooked. “I’m tired of it.”
Andi shrugged, strumming her hand over the strings, making a somewhat discordant noise. She didn’t actually know how to play guitar — she mostly just liked annoying Luke and messing around. “I never really had the chance.”
“Everybody says that. It’s never true.”
“It was for me. Is this your first year at boarding school?”
Andi strummed the guitar a bit more. “It’s my ninth.”
Bell stared. “You were at boarding school since the first grade? Really?”
“Really.” Andi strummed again. “Mostly over in Canterbury. My parents lived in London. It was an hour and a half away, assuming the M2 wasn’t congested. Summers at different camps. Then to Wales for middle school, and now I’m all the way to America. Every time, I’m that farther away from my parents. I figure by the time I go to University I’ll have to study in New Zealand.”
“Do you ever go home?”
“What counts as home?” She sighs. “Summers I’m still at camp. I go home for Christmas, and I’ll probably be home for the March holiday.”
“Hey!” Luke Miller almost lurched over to where the two girls were talking. He was just hitting his growth spurt, and looked all arms and legs and messy brown hair. “Put down my guitar! I’m not going to tell you again.”
“I’m borrowing it,” Andi said lazily.
“Put it down. In fact, put it away. In fact, don’t ever touch it again.”
“You like my playing,” Andi said, smiling warmly. “You wish it could lull you to sleep at night.” She ran her hand over the strings again.
“You can’t play. You’re terrible. Put it down.”
“You love her,” Bell said. “You’re so in love with her.”
“Shut up, Belt Buckle.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“I’m serious. Don’t call me that.”
“You should just give me this guitar,” Andi said. “I’m a natural.”
Luke rolled his eyes. “Ahym a naturuh,” he said, in an exaggerated attempt at Andi’s Essex accent.
The bell rang. Well, that wasn’t quite accurate — it was more of a buzzer. It might have been a bell once, but now it just grated.
“Come on,” Bell said, turning fast enough to swirl her skirt. “Let’s go bomb the test.”
“Put the guitar away,” Luke said.
Andi strummed again.
“Put it away. No — give it me. I’ll put it away.” He reached down and grabbed the instrument.
Andi tugged it back, grinning impishly.
“Let go.” He pulled again. “Let go.”
Andi pushed it in his direction, laughing and pushing up. “Don’t be late.”
“Tell Mister Charlton I had to put my guitar away!” Luke shouted after her.
“Oh yes,” Andi said, smirking. “I’ll be sure to do that.”
“Dork,” Luke muttered, putting the guitar back in the case, which just made Andi laugh again.
The classroom was already mostly full when Andi walked in. A sea of boys and girls, all fourteen to fifteen, greeted her as she made her way to the desk. Everyone in their dark blue blazers with the badge on the pocket. Everyone in the off-white shirts with the plaid ties. The boys all in the khaki slacks, the girls alternating between the slacks or the dark blue matching pleated skirts. Andi was a skirt girl herself.
Mister Charlton was sitting behind his desk. His face was somewhat weathered, and his hair was dark but edged all around with snow. His eyebrows were a touch thick and crooked, which on his lean face made him look severe, or even hungry. He looked up at Andi as she picked up one of the stapled exams on his desk. “Feeling confident?” he asked Andi, with a mixture of concern and contempt. He knew full well Andi didn’t have a knack for math. Of course, he just assumed she didn’t care.
Well, maybe she didn’t. “We’ll see,” she said, smiling a bit. It never paid to frown at a teacher. She’d learned that back in Canterbury.
Andi set her bag down next to her desk. It was heavy — notebooks, notebook computer, some books, and all the stuff that accumulated in a messenger bag over a few trimesters. She slid into the chair, leaning down to pull out her mechanical pencils. She always brought two to a test — a silly superstition maybe, but once when she was very young she’d had to ask for a pencil during the test, because her pencil ran out of lead. She could still hear the master’s snotty laughter six years later.
The second bell rang, just in time for Luke to run in. He got about two sentences into his explanation on how he had to put his guitar away before Mister Charlton handed him his exam and told him to just sit down already. Andi couldn’t help but smile over that. She wrote her name across the top of the sheet. Andi Gannett-Moore. It was short for Andrea, but no one ever called her that unless she was in trouble. Her classmates called her Andi — or other teasing nicknames, though those were slowing down as they grew into teenagers. The teachers called her Andi or Miss Gannett-Moore. Or half the time, Miss Moore or Miss Gannett. Somehow, hyphens were alien to them. And as for her parents? Well, for them to call her anything at all, they would first need to call.
Simplify each expression the exam informed her. She rubbed her eyes. She hated Algebra. She hated all maths. Well, there was nothing to be done for it. (1+x)(3+2x) the first one read. She scribbled down 3+5x+2x2, not really paying attention. Instead, she was thinking about her parents. She didn’t do that very often, but after talking to Bell….
It was an old resentment. Not much worth dwelling. (6a4+18a3+12a2 her fingers wrote.) Sometimes it cropped back up — her entire life, it seemed like her parents paid other people to raise her. Now here she was, turning into a woman, and their only influence on her was an occasional letter and the injunction that she write to them at least once a month. (225b+30b2-15b3.) She paused to rub her temples. There was no sense in feeling sorry for herself. Her parents had arranged for the excellent education that Andi was in the middle of blowing, and if they couldn’t bring themselves to raise her, at least they paid for decent proxies.
She turned back to the test, only to realize she’d finished. She frowned a touch, looking back over her work. Thirty binomials, thirty answers. She hadn’t shown her work, but oh well — it wasn’t like she was going to pass anyway. Maybe that would get the old parents on the phone at last. She’d never actually failed a course before, but then until now math had always involved actual numbers.
It all looked accurate to her — which didn’t mean much, but she at least had a sense that everything was right. And, since she didn’t really know this stuff, she had no reason to think she could figure out where she screwed it up. Taking a deep breath, she got up and walked over to slip the sheet into Mister Charlton’s “in” box, which he had on the edge of his desk.
Andi paused as she got to the box, and realized there weren’t any other tests in it.
Mister Charlton didn’t look impressed. “You don’t want to check things over even a little more, Miss Moore?”
“Gannett-Moore,” Andi murmured. “And I don’t think there’s much good it will do me.”
“Really? Maybe try to rework a problem or two?”
“All right,” he said. “Drop it off and we’ll see you Monday.” He sounded disappointed. Andi wasn’t sure why — it’s not like she had ever given him a reason to hope for better.
Andi grabbed her bag and walked out. Since it was Saturday, classes were only until lunch, and then the afternoon was athletics. For Andi, it meant JV Women’s Lacrosse. Andi was a pretty solid right wing — she had the hand-eye coordination and if she wasn’t particularly academic, she was pretty solid as an athlete.
She half-strode down the hall to the stairwell, then down and around to the outside. May in Midcoast Maine wasn’t supposed to be ninety degrees, but no one told the weather that. Her uniform coat was supposed to be light enough for spring, but Andi felt herself sweating into it halfway down the quad to Jansen House.
Ah well — shorts and tee shirt for now, and then into her uniform when it was time to go run with sticks. They had an away game, so they were supposed to hit the bus around 12:30. In a way, it was odd having this much time to kill. She’d begun to feel a knot in her stomach, thinking about the test. Maybe she could have tried harder, or shown her work, or something….
She thought back over the test paper, over the questions. She weighed each one in her head….
Making it to her dorm, Andi breathed out. “Enough,” she muttered. “It’s done. No reason to make myself crazy now.” She pushed open the door.
“Who’s crazy?” Jennie Shaw was lying on one of the short couches in the dorm lounge. She was watching tennis on television, her phone in her hand. Jennie was Andi’s roommate. She spoke with an Alabaman accent that sounded lyrically alien to Andi. Of course, her own accent probably sounded as odd to Jennie.
“Me. Blew a test,” Andi said. “What’re you doing here?”
“Free block.” Jennie’s phone pinged, and she looked at it. Smiling a bit, she began to tap a reply on the screen.
The television screen turned sepia then, with the image of a locomotive wheel turning and the sound of gears in the background. “Driving forward with the power of fire and steam,” a contralto said in the clipped tones of British received pronunciation. “As unstoppable as progress. As inevitable as eternity.” The screen faded to a dark haired woman in soft focus, wearing a Victorian dress, only her eyes clear as they looked out at the viewers. “What the machine knows, who can tell?” she whispered, her own voice American.
“Discover the secret,” the narrator said, as the image dissolved onto a diamond cut glass bottle. “Steam, by Lovelace.”
Andi shook her head as the screen switched back to the tennis coverage. “A perfume named Steam? Does it smell like an engine? Or just water?”
“I like that commercial,” Jennie said. “Gilmore just oozes, like… it’s like sex but it’s all serene?”
“Gilmore?” Andi asked.
“Rachelle Gilmore? Owns Lovelace?”
“Oh.” Andi nodded. She’d heard of the woman — apparently made her mark back in the nineties during the tech boom. “I thought Lovelace was a technology company.”
“It is.” Jennie held up her smartphone. “This is a Double-L Viper. That’s one of theirs I think.”
“I know it is. I have a Double-L 7.”
“Right, right. Wait, how did they not get sued over that?”
“No idea. So why is Rachelle Gilmore hawking perfume?”
Jennie shrugged. “She likes money?”
Andi snorted. “I wonder if she actually smells good.”
“You know what? Don’t think I care.” Jennie grinned, even as her phone pinged again. She read her message and began answering.
Andi chuckled, walking through the door to the first floor hallway. Her room was at the end. She had time for a shower, almost by definition, and that sounded really nice all of a sudden, especially since the Lacrosse team had an away game, which meant an hour crammed into a microbus.
Discover the secret. Gilmore’s own accent was generic American, but she gave off the impression of Britain. Andi wasn’t sure if she should be offended or not. Still, it was an evocative tag line. What secret? How did steam become mysterious?
Well, maybe the fact that Andi was thinking about it meant she got it right. Who could tell?
Andi went into her room, looking around. Her clothes were strewn about her side, leaking onto Jennie’s side. Well, that was okay — Jennie’s clothing leaked onto hers. The whole place had a stale sweat smell. Maybe they needed to buy a bottle of Steam just to hide the odor. Instead, she slid the window open, then grabbed a towel, her shower kit and some sweats to change into. Fifteen minutes of shower, then get ready for practice. A nice boring afternoon, then a nice, boring Sunday. Stupid half-day Saturday. Andi wondered how many times she’d had a half-day of school on a Saturday, followed by sport….
Mm. Fifteen, that school year. Twenty one total during her time at Bralson. So thirty six total. Not as bad as it sounded. Well, and the other sixteen weeks when they hadn’t had Saturday classes at Brooks-Carillon Academy, but they still had practices or games. Oh, and a total of two hundred sixteen days of Saturday sport required at Canterbury without associated classes, so two hundred sixty eight academically mandated days of exercise on Saturdays. And of course, athletics were a seven day a week requirement at summer camps, but she didn’t count that. Well, she never minded being athletic, so long as she didn’t have to do math or remember things first.